A final year student of Parade’s class of 1967, John was formally inducted at his home in Enmore, with Hall of Famer Capt. Prof. Kevin Rickard AM (1953) presenting a memento to him on the association’s behalf.
“I am very honoured to be inducted into the Old Paradians’ Hall of Fame,” John said following the ceremony.
“I was at Parade from ’62 to ’67. In those days there was not that much education in music at the school and yet my talents were recognised. In my last two years I was allowed to sing at the school dances . . . and I was also asked to sing at the Speech Night.
“It may have been the first time a soloist sang at the Speech Night. The applause I received that night gave me an inkling that this could be a career.”
John’s hunch proved right a hundred times over, for he rose from the ranks of chorus for the Australian Opera in Melbourne to the leading Wagnerian Heldenbaritone at Bayreuth.
Born in Germany in 1950, John was just a five year-old when he and his mother made their way across the globe in search of a new life in Australia. When his mother died soon afterwards, John was raised by his older brother already living here.
Steadily adapting to his new environment, John successfully auditioned for the St Patrick's Cathedral choir – one of his earliest Melbourne musical experiences.
John also developed a great love for Australian Rules. A schoolboy footballer of renown, he later joined the powerhouse that was the Old Paradians’ Association Amateur Football Club, and in 1968 was part of its A Section Premiership team. Playing off a half-back flank, John fondly remembered that the half-back line was known amongst his fellow defenders “as ‘the green line’ . . . and nothing was to cross it”.
Although a badly broken leg put paid to John’s promising football career the following season, he continued to represent the Old Paradians in athletics - which would later serve him well for the physical demands of opera.
John sang with the likes of Dame Joan Sutherland and performed in all the famous theatres worldwide - from La Scala Milan to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and, closer to home, the Sydney Opera House.
A four-time Helpmann Award winner for distinguished artistic excellence and achievement, John was earlier this year awarded the AO for distinguished service to the performing arts as a world renowned operatic bass-baritone, and as an ambassador for the cultural reputation of Australia.
At the height of his career, John was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which has profoundly impacted on his life. With the support of his wife Mignon and close family and friends, he faces this latest challenge with his typical positive disposition.
Though John’s operatic career took him far and wide, this truly humble man never forgot Parade. In October 2007, John addressed the College Assembly after having been presented with a Distinguished Old Paradian award – and only recently, he generously forwarded an instructional video recording to Parade’s music department, to be utilised by any student who might wish to pursue a similar career path.
John’s induction into the Old Paradians’ Association Hall of Fame was truly welcomed by Prof. Rickard, one of only three living members together with Michael Pratt GC and now John.
In presenting the memento to his fellow Inductee, Prof. Rickard said: “John, your presence in the Hall of Fame adds a great lustre to the Hall of Fame”.
“It certainly adds an enormous international flavour to the Hall of Famer, and for that we’re all very grateful,” Prof. Rickard said.
“Congratulations to you John on this award, congratulations on your most extraordinary career, and the warmest of best wishes to you for the future.”
The Old Paradians’ Association Hall of Fame was established by the OPA committee in 2010. The committee’s rationale was that a Hall of Fame would help perpetuate the memory of the people who brought honour to Parade College and who by their contributions to society serve as authentic role models for present and future generations of the Parade community.
John Wegner AO is the 15th inductee into the Old Paradians’ Association Hall of Fame.
Previous inductees are: